Derived from the Spanish word charqui, which means jerked or dried meat, jerk is the process of spicing and grilling meats and vegetables. The origin of the term is linked to the pre-slavery days of the Coromantee hunters of West Africa, who were Jamaican slaves who escaped from the British during the invasion of 1655. They jerked or poked the chicken or pork with a sharp object, producing holes that was filled with spices and then cooked. The resultant chicken or pork was tender, extremely flavorful, and also very hot.
Did You Know?Jerk refers to both, the method of cooking and the seasoning used to marinate meat before cooking.
Jerk seasoning is usually a blend of sweet tropical spices and savory herbs. However, the main ingredients for the seasoning include: allspice, also known as "pimento" in Jamaica, and Scotch bonnet chili peppers. The seasoning is applied to pork and chicken, but sometimes, it is also mixed with beef, sausage, lamb, and fish. The food is then broiled or grilled to perfection, or cooked over a pit or the fireplace. Of course, there are a number of number of companies that produce traditional Jamaican Jerk seasoning such as the Walkerswood Caribbean Foods Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, Grace Jerk Seasoning, or the McCormick Gourmet Collection Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. However, if you want to make the seasoning at home, then here are some tips to help you on your way.
One of the most important ingredients in Jamaican cooking, allspice is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica tree. The fruits are picked when they are ripe, and then dried in sun. Once dry, they turn brown and become like huge brown peppercorns. Usually, the allspice are powdered just before use to retain their shelf life.
Scotch Bonnet, also known as Caribbean red peppers, is a type of chili pepper that is found in the Caribbean islands. Closely related to habanero peppers, Scotch bonnet is one of the spiciest peppers around, although it does have a lightly sweet taste about it. It is this sweet-heat flavor that makes it a popular ingredient in jerk seasoning as well as a variety of other Caribbean cuisine. For the dry rub, Scotch bonnet pepper powder can be used.
Instead of Scotch bonnet Pepper, habanero peppers or chipotle chilies can also be used to add a fiery taste to the seasoning. If you are apprehensive about eating something this hot, then substitute Scotch bonnet peppers with a milder pepper.
Thyme is a popular perennial herb with a minty flavor and penetrating aroma that is used in many dishes. You can either use fresh or dry thyme for making the jerk seasoning. However, it is important to keep in mind that dried thyme is much more concentrated than the fresh version. So, if the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, you should use around half a tablespoon of dried thyme. Other than thyme, parsley, and chopped coriander can also used to impart flavor and a fresh aroma to the recipe.
Apart from allspice, you need other spices to impart flavor to the seasoning. Some popular spices used in Jamaican jerk seasoning include ground black pepper, ground cloves, nutmeg, garlic powder, chili powder, cinnamon sticks that are roughly crushed. Sometimes, onion powder or chopped scallions are used for the seasoning as well.
If you want to add a Caribbean zest to your chicken, lamb, pork, or fish, then this versatile seasoning is just perfect for you. The best part is that you can make it and store it for a long time.